Screen reader

Most screen readers can help reduce the need to strain your eyes by reading the contents of a screen aloud or translating the screen to braille if you have a braille display. Once you have your screen reader set up, you’ll be able to read websites, accessible PDFs, documents, image captions and alt tags and emojis, meaning you get the full experience of being online, without needing to see the screen.

Screen readers can be used by anybody. There could be many other reasons why someone chooses to use a screen reader, including:

  • Vision impairments
  • Cognitive impairment

  • Deaf or hard-of-hearing

  • Eye pain or straining

  • Learning difficulties

  • Non-native speakers

If you want an easy way to read digital screens, or experience eye strain when looking at a screen for too long, it might be a good idea to try out a screen reader.

On this page

If you would prefer to watch the video without audio description, there is a non-described version here rather than the accessible one above.

What is a screen reader?

A screen reader is a form of assistive technology that reads a screen's content on your mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop computer and converts it into either speech, braille, or both. Most screen readers have the functionality to 'read' any written content on an accessible web page or screen, including:

  • Text
  • Headings
  • Html code
  • Icons
  • Buttons
  • Emails
  • Alt text
  • Dialogue boxes

If you want your screen reader to translate on-screen text into braille, you'll need an additional device called a refreshable braille display.

As using a mouse cursor is very visual, most screen readers offer navigation using a variety of keyboard shortcuts to carry out different tasks.

Without my screen reader on my phone and computer, I wouldn't be able to work, read books, and access all the information I need to lead an independent life. My favourite keystrokes are Ctrl + Shift + I in Outlook to get to my inbox faster or insert F4 to shut down my computer at the end of the day.
Phil, a guide dog owner

Best free screen readers

Best paid screen reader software

Frequently asked questions

How do I get a screen reader?

There are numerous different ways you can get a screen reader. Remember, many computers, mobiles and tablets will have built-in options, so you should be able to follow the manufacturers guide to turn the software on with little to no installation. Examples of built-in screen readers include:

  • VoiceOver (Apple)
  • TalkBack (Google/Android)
  • Narrator (Windows)

If your device doesn’t have a screen reader built in, or you want to use a specific software, you should be able to download one as a plug-in or app.

How much do screen readers cost?

Some screen readers, such as those that are built-in to your laptop, tablet or phone are available completely free of charge. Others have optional upgrades which carry a small fee. Other options are only available on a paid-for licence.

The exact price of a paid-for screen reader like JAWS, depends on what kind of licencing you need (business or personal) and whether you’re combining it with any other software, such as a magnifier or text to speech. Typically, you’ll be looking at a price range of £735.00 – £840.00 for full licencing.

Paid-for screen readers are available to some people through the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) Technology Grant Scheme.

You may also be eligible for the Access to Work grant scheme, which may help with the cost of a screen reader if you need one to do your job. You can find out if you’re eligible and learn more about what the scheme covers on the RNIB website.

Although screen readers are often a useful tool for people with sight loss or those with vision impairments that affect their ability to read digital displays, they cannot guarantee a smooth reading experience online. It is ultimately down to the web developers to ensure a website is screen-reader-friendly and has all the readable information you need to get the most from your online experience.

If you feel a screen reader would benefit you, make sure you look into the options that are compatible with your mobile, tablet or computer. It’s also a good idea to try out a few of the free options to see which works best for you before deciding whether or not you want a paid-for option.

Technically reviewed by: Subject Matter Experts on 02/11/2023

Guide Dogs is committed to integrating technology into our service delivery and promoting excellence in accessibility and usability. Our staff undergo comprehensive training in technology and accessibility in collaboration with industry leaders like Apple. We foster knowledge of technology and create content through our Technology Champions, comprising Vision Rehabilitation Specialists and Habilitation Specialists. We review this content periodically to ensure that it is up to date and includes new features and changes with operating systems. We work with our partners to ensure accessibility is at the centre of the design. To find out more, there is more information in our accessibility policy.

Whilst Guide Dogs may be able to suggest various third-party websites and third-party applications which may be able to assist you, those are not endorsed by Guide Dogs. Guide Dogs have no control over those third parties and cannot be held responsible for the accuracy of information and support they can provide or the suitability and quality of any products or services they provide.